My Simple 46-Step Writing Process

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Note: An early version of this post was published in October of 2014 on my former blogging site. As my process has developed over the years, so has this list. It has been refreshed and relocated for your convenience. Enjoy!


This is how the magic happens.

Step 1: Convince myself I’ll never have another good idea.

Step 2: Idea sparks while I’m driving, working out, showering, or doing some other activity that makes it impossible to write idea down.

Step 3: Panic.

Step 4: Hurriedly complete task and rush to write down new idea before it evaporates.

Step 5: Look at idea later and decide it’s soul-crushingly stupid.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5 until I have an idea that doesn’t make me want to sprint face-first into a brick wall.

Step 7: Drink 8,000 cups of coffee.

Step 8: Begin writing.

Step 9: Rip all hair out of head.

Step 10: Write some more.

Step 11: Drink more coffee.

Step 12: Resign myself that death is more likely to occur than the completion of the first draft.

Step 13: Finish first draft.

Step 14: Gallop around the apartment, yodeling.

Step 15: Call family and friends, announce the completion of the first draft of a new project.

Step 16: Try to explain plot/premise of first draft to family and friends.

Step 17: Realize that large swathes of it don’t make sense to them… or to me.

Step 18: Dread re-reading first draft for fear that it makes even less sense than I anticipate.

Step 19: Re-read first draft through one squinty eye.

Step 20: Die inside.

Step 21: Call family and friends, announce that I’ll soon be embarking on a solo hot-air-balloon tour of the world and they should come say their goodbyes as soon as possible.

Step 22: Try to buy hot air balloon online; wind up perusing help-wanted ads, paying special attention to local job openings that require neither reading nor writing.

Step 23: Eat scoops of coffee straight from the bag.

Step 24: Crawl into hyperbaric chamber stored in the closet for such a time as this.

Step 25: Listen to Mozart’s Requiem.

Step 26: Print out first draft while assembling army of sharpened pencils.

Step 27: Re-read manuscript, one hand thrust through what’s left of my hair, the other hand clutching a pencil; scribble angrily in the margins; occasionally shriek, “NO, NO, NO!”

Step 28: Listen to the Second Movement of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

Step 29: Murder my darlings.

Step 30: General flailing.

Step 31: Consume large amounts of cheese.

Step 32: Write second draft.

Step 33: Close hyperbaric chamber; seal off closet; resume sleeping in bed.

Step 34: Send latest draft to beta readers for feedback. Take cheerful jog around the block.

Step 35: Instantly feel worse.

Step 36: Alternate between hyperventilating and quietly dry heaving into a trash can.

Step 37: Receive exciting (yet horrifying) e-mails full of contradictory lists of everything that is both very right and very wrong with my manuscript.

Step 38: [gentle keening]

Step 39: Wade through contradictory lists of confusing feedback and decide what to change.

Step 40: Play Bach’s Come, Sweet Death on repeat.

Step 41: Write new draft.

Step 42: Find new readers; repeat Steps 34-41.

Step 43: Decide that the manuscript is “done.”

Step 44: Submit to agents/editors; repeat Steps 36 and 38.

Step 45: Find a publishing home; celebrate; prepare for book launch.

Step 46: Decide I’ll never have any good ideas ever again.


In addition to posting here, this week I’m also over on author Elaine Stock’s blog Everyone’s Story discussing the theological implications of running hills. Check out the post “Lift My Eyes.” While you’re there, comment to be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of my book Collapsible: A Novel of Friendship, Broken Bones, Coffee, Shenanigans, and the Occasional Murder.

Happy Monday, everyone! May your coffee and your ideas flow freely.

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